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A Master Class in Holiday Entertaining

Plan the perfect celebration with these seasonal secrets from the experts at The Ritz-Carlton.

Planning a crowd-pleasing menu. Selecting the perfect wine. Creating an Instagram-worthy centerpiece. Tap into expert advice from The Ritz-Carlton to make your next holiday gathering unforgettable.

The Special Events Expert

As director of meetings and special events at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, Tami Corday has planned many a dazzling celebration. Her secret? Overprepare, have a backup plan and then have fun — after all, the enjoyment of your guests is the most important measure of success.

Trick of the trade: “The best way to avoid stress is to plan, plan, plan. When hosting at home, I set everything up the day before, all the way down to placing serving dishes where they will go with a note on what I will serve in each. I emphasize my guests’ preferences for food and drink, pre-plan a playlist of music — and when people arrive and ask how they can help, I have an easy-but-helpful task ready.”

A lasting impression: “Music and aroma evoke sensory memories. Begin with nostalgic holiday tunes and decorate with fir branch garland dotted with cinnamon candles. Accent with framed photos of guests or dreamy winter scenes. Great lighting is a must — events should have a soft glow with uplighting in amber tones and plenty of candlelight. And a farewell gift always impresses. It could be as simple as your family’s holiday cookie recipe with a few wrapped to go or as luxurious as personalized robes with bubble bath.”

The holiday spirit: “Giving back to the community is so important at this time of the year. In lieu of a gift exchange, encourage guests to bring items to donate to a local homeless shelter. We recently worked on a corporate event where attendees teamed up to paint rocking horses for donation. The guests had a blast and the smiles on the children’s faces were priceless when they received them.”

The Wine Connoisseur

Sommelier Vincent Feraud, wine director of The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, says it’s easy to choose an expensive wine but much more difficult to find excellent wine at a great price. Here, he shares the essential bottles, glassware tips and a crowd-pleasing cocktail for any celebration.

Best holiday wines: For a red, “Gran Passione from Veneto, a blend of Corvina and Merlot, or Steindorfer, St Laurent from Austria, which is rich with a long finish and always receives a high score.” White? “Pinot Bianco from Elena Walch, a family-owned winery in Alto Adige. This is a concentrated wine with great acidity and a great price.” For sparkling, “Steininger Brut Sekt, from Austria. Why not Champagne? You can get many sparkling wines, which are made like Champagne and just as delicious with their own terroir nuances.”

Go-to glassware: “I use Burgundy glasses in the 18-ounce size — use thicker glassware to limit breakage. Bigger glasses make the wine taste and look better. Don’t pour more than 5 ounces, though. The rest of the space in the glass is for the wine to aerate from the fruit flavor expressed from it.”

Festive favorites: “My go-to app is a shellfish platter, paired with a high-acidity, lemony white wine from the Loire Valley such as Muscadet, Pouilly-Fumé or Sancerre, or a Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige. And a great cocktail at this time of year is warm or cold mulled red wine. Use equal parts red wine reduced with spices and Remy Martin Cognac 1758 — this cocktail is all about wine!”

The Floral Artist

Floral artist Donna Stain wows guests of Hotel Arts Barcelona with her show-stopping arrangements and botanical wizardry. With a penchant for uncomplicated designs in beautiful vessels, Stain believes in letting nature speak, gloriously, for itself.

Trends to try: “Tall, leafy branches such as pine, spruce, magnolia, holly and bountiful boughs of berries in large glass vases or ceramic pots, alone or dotted with a few berry-red blooms such as roses, amaryllis or anthuriums. I love a ‘look-what-I-gathered-from-the-garden’ approach. Or draw attention to the wonders of nature by choosing one variety of flower or branch, and amassing that in a vase or series of vases grouped together with a few stems of the chosen flora. I call it the ‘power-in-numbers’ approach. Try bunches of eucalyptus, which have a heady scent and icy-cold-looking green leaves.”

Consider the vase: “My philosophy is all about the union of the flower, foliage and vase. Together they create a composition, and the space around them is their frame. In the past at Hotel Arts, I filled large green urns with fragrant cascading branches of pine. The glass captured the sunshine, and the stems inside were magnified under the water. It was simple in design but glowed green from top to bottom.”

A stress-free tablescape: “A quick, festive setting for the dining table, cocktail table or mantelpiece could be as simple as a family of recycled jam and honey jars with the labels washed off, in a line or grouped together and filled with fresh water, sprouting branches of pine, holly branches and ilex (winter berry) interspersed with other jars with candles inside.”